Getting to grips with the beast: Lamborghini's V12 Aventador
Lamborghini's V12 Aventador is the perfect union of technical brilliance and raw emotion. Mark Sharp gets to grips with the beast
It was preceded, appropriately, with a double espresso shot. Not a nod to Italian coffee culture, but a caffeine jolt to gear up for a spin in the 6.5-litre, 12-cylinder fighting bull called the Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4. Decoded, that's a longitudinally positioned mid-engine with an output of 700 horsepower. And it's a four-wheel drive.
Among its V12 rivals, there's the sophisticated charm of the Aston Martin V12 Vantage and the elegant Ferrari F12. You could liken the Aventador to the thug at the bar who accuses you of staring at him in order to pick a fight. It's an aggressive-looking brute that almost shouts "drive me if you dare".
The exterior of this road-hugging aluminium wedge is a geometric masterpiece in sharp lines and interlocking angles. It's how a hi-tech god might conjure up the ultimate predator for life on a futuristic planet. The pointy bonnet appears designed as if to spear a luckless jaywalker. But it's not simply style over substance. Lamborghini says the design of its flagship model takes inspiration from the modern aeronautics industry. The Aventador, too, is made to fly through the air.
The panel running along the rear end, for example, is a deployable spoiler to increase downforce at high speeds. Another panel hides the fuel cap. Its cavernous front air dams are electronically programmed to open and close in response to the external temperature and cooling needs of the engine.
Lamborghini has also made light work of the Aventador, which tips the scales at just 1,575kg. The roof and cockpit are a rigid carbon-fibre monocoque that weighs a mere 147.5kg. In terms of its weight-to-power ratio, each of those 700 horses is pulling just 2.25kg.
It took Lamborghini two years to hand over the key to local media after the Aventador was unveiled here. But it is a precious commodity, destined to become a collectors' item. The company has said it will only make 4,000 units. And it was worth the wait. Flipping up the scissor door, and contorting Houdini-like into the low-slung bucket seat (the Aventador stands at just 1.4 metres), I see an equally stunning control console. It's like sitting in a fighter jet, or how you might imagine it. There's a row of toggle switches, encased in a shiny metal panel, with other switches on either side of a revolving controller hooked up to the multimedia and navigation screen. There's little time to memorise all of them ahead of a 90-minute test-drive, while simultaneously admiring the rest of the leather-coated cabin.
The most dramatic flourish is the start/stop button, hidden under a red flick-up cover. Again, it is as if the driver is being tempted to enter dangerous territory.
Before I get a chance to press the scary button, a female admirer sits on the bonnet, avoiding the pointy tip, to pose for a photo. A few minutes later, after her friends have had their turn, we're cleared for take-off. Press start and the LED dials on the instrument panel light up blindingly as the engine growls into life. It's time for the fun to begin.
I start out in strada (road), the cleanest and most economical of the Aventador's three drive modes. Lamborghini says carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption are down about 20 per cent from its V12 predecessor, the Murcielago, which had the dubious honour of being named Britain's dirtiest car. At the same time, it has 8 per cent more power. Emissions are still high, at just shy of 400 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. But an owner won't be driving this HK$5.9 million car every day, especially when the luggage space under the bonnet is barely enough for a case of wine.
Part of the solution in bringing down emissions is the fact that the car runs on just six of its 12 cylinders when started up in strada mode. It fires up all 12 cylinders only when you are breaking Hong Kong's maximum speed limit of 110km/h on the road to the airport. Unfortunate, really, since the Aventador can rocket from a start to 100km/h in a wisp at 2.9 seconds, and tops out at a staggering 350km/h. Another concession to emissions quotas is the stop/start function that shuts down the engine at a red light then sparks up again when you ease off the brake.
Despite its capability, the Aventador lumbers somewhat in strada, upshifting a little too hesitantly. Initially, it feels disappointing, like it's not living up to its promise. But that may have more to do with driving a powerful car on slow roads it is not designed for, or the driver being too heavy with the foot.
In sport mode - when you can manually change gears with a flick of the wheel-mounted paddleshifts, and all 12 cylinders are firing - it's a totally different car. It finds its element, with an exhilarating jerk on the upshift, shunting aggressively into overdrive. You are reminded that besides those noisy horses behind your back, there's also a maximum 690 Newton metres of torque on your side.
With its stiff, pushrod suspension and massive downforce, the Aventador sucks itself into every uneven surface on the road, making for a somewhat bumpy ride. But it's not uncomfortable, just part of the experience of driving one of the most exciting sports cars of the early 21st century.
It's always just matter of minutes, seconds even, before an obstacle slows you down on Hong Kong Island - a roundabout, red light, roadworks, double-decker bus or a speed camera - so opportunities to put the foot down are few and fleeting. Brake too hard and the Aventador expresses dissatisfaction like an angry beast, grunting and snorting as if in derision at being reined in. You'll know what the Italians mean when they say they make cars imbued with emotion, not only technical perfection.
The Aventador's third drive mode is corsa (track), but it's pointless to even make this switch on the route from Wan Chai to Shek O. Sport mode has enough excitement to keep you alert, and appreciate that caffeine intake. Another reason to keep your senses in check is limited visibility through the rear-view mirror, in part due to the tiered struts that cover the engine, although wide wing mirrors help to compensate.
The effects of the double espresso had worn off by the time I returned to the Wan Chai showroom. Then it was time to open up the scissor door, try not to fall out, and head for a non-caffeinated drink at the first bar, 20 metres down the street. That left me wondering just how many others head for a stiff one after test-driving a car named after a particularly courageous fighting bull.